The sharp pain caused a layer of sweat to form on Ruan Zhan’s forehead, but he had no time to rest. Si Ma Nan could arrive at any moment. He had to be prepared for anything.
He first brought Ah Bai’s doll to the walkway on the lake. He decided to have a chat with her first before arranging things for Xiao Xia.
“Is he coming?” Ah Bai asked faintly. The new town was still under the restriction, so she could safely materialize.
Ruan Zhan nodded his head.
Ah Bai didn’t speak. She walked over and placed a hand on his shoulder’s wound and closed her eyes, her lips moving faintly.
Ruan Zhan felt a wave of warmth and his pain immediately lessened by a large amount.
“Sorry, I only have this bit of power left. I cannot fully heal you, and can only alleviate your symptoms.” Ah Bai said apologetically. “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to stop him. No one can stop him if he wants to do something.”
“This isn’t related to you. However, I heard from Xiao Xia…Si Ma Nan wants something you have. Can you tell me what it is? Ruan Zhan spoke sincerely. “Of course, you can choose not to say. He is the one you love. I won’t force you to betray him!”
Ah Bai sighed softly. “Betray? That’s already out of the question! I’m here because I want to bring that stone to him. Unfortunately, he never understood that he didn’t need to go through all that effort for that stone. He just needs to answer one question of mine.”
“It’s just a stone?”
No matter how rare or precious, it would just be some tacky material object in Si Ma Nan’s eyes. He could play around with it, but would never put so much effort into obtaining it. Besides, he had plenty of wealth and status at the moment. He could get any precious stone he wanted. Why would he be so fixated on this one? Therefore, Ah Bai’s stone must have some other function.
“It’s precisely this stone.” Ah Bai reached out her right hand.
A small, round stone slowly materialized in her previously empty, delicate palm. It was around the size of a quail egg, but it was flat and round. The small stone was a lustrous red, sparkling and translucent. Even without sunlight, it was still extremely dazzling and splendid.
“This stone is formless like a soul. It will only materialize with its owner’s command.” Seeming to have noticed his doubts, Ah Bai explained. “It is a little like the inner core of you Daoists. However, it isn’t something stored inside the stomach. Instead, it is fused with the owner’s soul. It is also intelligent, and chooses its owner. Unless the stone’s owner freely gifts it to someone else, it would be useless to anyone who finds it. The stone’s spirit would return to its original owner. Even if its spirit if imprisoned, it would not materialize and grant you that one wish. Feel it, it has its own heartbeat!” Ah Bai placed the small red stone in Ruan Zhan’s hand without a hint of vigilance.
Ruan Zhan gripped it slightly and felt it was indeed warm and beating.
“Truly very mystical.” He said reverently. “Si Ma Nan insists on obtaining it due to these special properties? That shouldn’t quite be the case.”
The reason he desperately wanted this stone was probably because of the one wish it could grant! But it was just a stone. Even if it had extremely magical properties, what could it actually do? Did he perhaps intend to refine it into a core?
“I don’t know.” Ah Bai shook her beautiful little head. “I also don’t know why he must have this stone, but I do know he wants it. I kept waiting for him to ask me, but he never did. He was probably afraid that I wouldn’t easily hand over this treasure to him, and was afraid I would refuse. Therefore, he kept searching for it in secret, and never asked me. Actually, would I refused to give him anything of mine, even if it was my life?! I just wanted him to answer one question. If he gave the wrong answer…” Ah Bai suddenly stopped speaking.
Ruan Zhan also didn’t ask.
He initially wanted to borrow this stone, and use it as bait for Si Ma Nan to fall into his trap. However, after hearing how important this stone was to Ah Bai, he gave up on the thought. He wouldn’t force others for his own sake.
“I cannot give you the stone.” Ah Bai knew his thoughts clearly. “However, you can say the stone is in your hands. That is sufficient to lure him into the tower. But I beg you not to kill him. At least…not before I meet him. I know he’s made many mistakes, but…”
“I promise.” Ruan Zhan said without any hesitation. He wasn’t able to refuse such an infatuated Ah Bai. But he gave a bitter laugh afterwards. “Perhaps Xiao Xia should be saying that to Si Ma Nan instead. He’s more likely to win in a fight between us.”
He knew his own situation clearly.
In the week since he was here, apart from a bit of water from the basement of the tower and rice from the trigrams, he hadn’t had anything to eat or drink. The other survivors had their souls moved, so they didn’t need the usual sustenance. However, he had been in a living state this whole time. Although he could circulate his spirit power to temporarily go without food or drink, his body would still weaken. He had also just lost a large amount of blood.
His abilities were weaker than Si Ma Nan’s to begin with. His only advantage was his constitution, which was now diminished. It would be extremely difficult for him to win. Although he still had an ace up his sleeve, it was an uncertain variable. He didn’t know if it would be effective at the critical moment.
“Master often said unreasonable things will not exist in perpetuity. His defiance of the heavens…I have a premonition…” Ah Bai once again stopped talking. She sat on the walkway’s railing with a sorrowful expression, immersed in her own thoughts.
She was a witch doctor with innate gifts, and wasn’t allowed to marry an ordinary man. She couldn’t bear the cost of raising a drug spirit, which was to take an infant’s life every so often, and decided to live alone her whole life.
Yet one day, she met him…a wandering spirit roaming the woods. He put so much effort into preventing his spirit from dispersing, trying everything in order to be reborn. He was also very lonely, making her feel deeply sympathetic. Therefore, she helped him. Although he couldn’t give him life, she could turn him into something like a drug spirit, but one that didn’t need to feast on infants.
She had lived in the woods all her life while he had roamed the world. In order to repay her, he often spoke about the things outside, telling her many marvelous stories. He was the one who told her how large the world was, how colorful and beautiful life was outside her mountain. He had given her a completely new perspective. They even researched spells together. He had said that different disciplines had a lot to learn from each other.
Gradually, she became accustomed to his company, accustomed to having him in her life. At some point, she put him deep into her heart. He was different from others. He was ambitious, elegant and knowledgeable. He treated her so gently, so how could she not love him?
Even if she had dreamt of black camellia!
Her master had doted upon her as his disciple, and had used all his powers prior to his death to foretell her future. Her master had said: If she encountered a man and ended up dreaming of black camellia, she must kill that man. He would be the calamity of her life!
By the time she realized she had fallen in love, she dreamt of black camellia seven days in a row. She knew her life’s calamity had arrived, but how could she bear to make a move? She already loved him so much she was willing to sacrifice her own life! Even if she didn’t kill him, she could only live until twenty-five. Even though she knew that he didn’t love her that much!
She knew very well he initially was just repaying her, or perhaps he was lonely. Yet afterwards, he set his designs upon her, wanting to learn even more secrets of witchcraft from her, as well as wanting that stone. She knew all this, but she wasn’t able to persuade her own heart, and allowed him to lie to her, allowing herself to lie to her own heart as well.
Actually, that stone wouldn’t have any use for him. Although she didn’t know why he wanted it, she used it to tether his heart, forcing him not to leave her until she died!
She knew her lifespan was at an end. She also knew her powers would weaken due to her emotions. Therefore, she made a mistake in her anxiousness and accepted two disciples. Only after uncovering their deceit did she realize that she had overestimate one’s ability while the other had a sinister, stingy nature with a bone to pick against the world. They definitely couldn’t maintain the peace of the mountain!
She wanted to remedy things but was powerless. Therefore, she could only follow in her master’s footsteps and beseech the god of all things to grant her a vision of the future as she neared the end of her life. Then, she made arrangements accordingly, hoping the one who came after could help eliminate the apprentice who had already become a scourge.
Her actions rapidly whittled down her life. Therefore, she wasn’t able to give him the stone before she died. He ended up trapping her soul inside the bottom of the well. To this day, she still didn’t understand the true reason he did so.
Was he afraid she would take revenge after discovering his true heart? But she had long since known about it, but had never even considered doing anything to him!
Thinking of this, Ah Bai felt a piercing pain in her heart. It’s been so many years, yet she still suffered when thinking of this. He actually didn’t really love her that much. She would be satisfied with just the tiniest trace of sincerity. She would feel all her love was worth it.
She raised her head and saw Ruan Zhan standing there silently, not making a sound.
“You don’t need to mind me. Go make your preparations. He…will be here any minute now.” She stood up and walked to Ruan Zhan, chanting a few lines. “This is the transference spell. Ah Mu and Ah Wu both used it before. It can help you block some attacks. It’s a little late for you to learn it now, but you are extremely talented. Hopefully it’ll be of use to you.”
“Ah Bai, you don’t have to do this.” Ruan Zhan sighed, knowing how hard it was for her to make this decision.
His victory meant Si Ma Nan’s failure. She loved him so much, so doing this meant betraying her loved one. This was extreme torture for someone pure like Ah Bai. Yet she had ultimately chosen to help him, making him not know what to say.
“I’ll give this back to you.” He handed over the red stone to Ah Bai.
Ah Bai took it and stroked it gently. “I did it for Xiao Xia’s sake. She treated me so well, so I should repay her.” Ah Bai lowered her head, watching as the small stone slowly vanished in her palm. “Her love for you is no less than mine for Ah Nan. If you ever become parted by the veil of life and death, she would be devastated.”
Thinking of Xiao Xia, Ruan Zhan’s heart clenched.
“Go wake her up. I will take her and hide far away. We definitely won’t watch you men battle!” Ah Bai acted relaxed as she let out a breath. “This is what you want, right?”
Ruan Zhan wasn’t able to speak, and merely nodded. Then, he walked into the tower for the third time, returning Xiao Xia’s soul from his button back into her body. He gently watched as she gradually awoke.
“Is everything over?” Xiao Xia immediately at up and hugged Ruan Zhan’s waist tightly.
“Almost, there’s just a bit left. Don’t worry, it’ll be over soon.” Ruan Zhan stroked her hair and spoke quietly.
Xiao Xia nestled comfortable in his arms, her face rubbing gently against his chest. She enjoyed the tranquility that had been hard to come by the past few days. Yet at that moment she suddenly smelled the scent of blood. Looking up, she noticed half of his shirt was stained with fresh blood, startling her into immediately sitting up. She only managed to avoid crying out by covering her mouth.
“It’s not as bad as it looks. I was just tricking them into becoming overconfident.” Ruan Zhan downplayed the situation.
Xiao Xia knew he was only comforting her, but she didn’t point it out. It seemed Si Ma Nan had yet to arrive, but just dealing with those spirits already caused him such grievous injuries. However, he wanted her not to worry, so she pretended not to be worried. That way, he would also feel at ease.
She wasn’t able to stop this battle, so she wouldn’t try. However, she could make sure he didn’t feel hung up over things, and allow him to focus completely on the battle against the dangerous opponent!
“You must come back alive.” She once again buried herself in his arms, careful not to touch his wound. “However, don’t worry about the outcome. Just do your best. I’ve already decided in any case. If you live, I’ll accompany you in life. If you die, I will also accompany you.”
“No need to persuade me. You know how stubborn I am. I’ve made up my mind to be with you, never to part. Now, tell me what you want me to do.”
Xiao Xia’s words made his heart feel as if wrapped in a warm current. He immediately felt he could defeat Si Ma Nan. He hugged her tightly, feeling her heart beating against his own. “I want you and Ah Bai to leave. Don’t come back until the matter here is settled, even if I die. You want to be together for eternity? Alright, I promise you. But you have to wait for me. I will come find you, no matter if I’m human or ghost. Do you trust me?”
Xiao Xia nodded forcefully, indicating how much she trusted him. However, she still involuntarily teared up.
She loved him so much! She had always loved him, but had never dared tell him before coming here. She never thought that after expressing her emotions, they would only have such a short time together before facing the unknown.
“However, you don’t have to worry too much. I will definitely win, because I always do.” Ruan Zhan cupped her face, looking into her teary eyes. “There is still countless wonders awaiting you in life. I won’t let you cut it short.”
“I’m not worried as long as we can be together.”
Ruan Zhan gave her an extremely assuring glance. “Good. Head outside now. Ah Bai will take you somewhere extremely safe. Wait for me obediently. As I said, I will definitely go find you.”
“En.” Xiao Xia agreed gently.
Since she couldn’t help him, she wouldn’t drag him down, let alone make a fuss and add to his worries. The calmer she appeared, the more confident he would be.
Ruan Zhan kissed her on the lips before releasing her, afraid he would ruin things by lingering too long.
The air had changed. It felt rather heavy, as if right before the rain. It even seemed to be filled with moisture, indicating one thing: Si Ma Nan was about to arrive!